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Looking back, to move forward

December 31, 2020

As I woke up to our clock radio this morning, I heard the on air talent celebrating that we made it through 2020.  That same sentiment was in many Facebook posts I read as I scrolled through.  Probably more than at any other time in which I can remember people seem to be putting a lot of hope in the new year.  It seems we are breathing this collective sigh of relief.  And there is some hope on the horizon but frankly, our hope for those of us who follow Jesus should not be in a vaccine.  Like so many others I have been reflecting on 2020 and have come up with just 5 reminders.  They aren’t necessary lessons learned, but just familiar realities that have been highlighted for me over the past 12 months. 

One of the sentiments from many as we peer into 2021 seems to be “It can’t be worse can it?”  I think of a line from that great theologian Homer Simpson at the beginning of The Simpson Movie several years back, when Bart exclaimed: “This is the worst day of my life!”  To which Homer replies: “Worst day so far.”   I truly hope as we put 2020 in the rear-view mirror that it is the worst year of our lives and not just the worst year so far.  But who knows?  And that is my first reminder from 2020.  I really don’t have a clue.  No one could have predicted what we have been through collectively since early this past year.  While there have been cataclysmic events, and natural disasters in the past an invisible virus that shut down the world is not in our collective realm of experience.  I don’t really have a clue what to expect in 2021.  I have hopes, and dreams, and plans, but I need to hold those all up in a open hand before God and realize that I need to live each day to its fullest.   I really don’t have a clue about the future, but my God does.  I rest in him.

How many of us wish we would have invested in Zoom last January?  Wait.  How many of us even knew about Zoom last January?  In this past year I have learned how to set up a Zoom meeting so that I could lead an interactive Bible study.  I have put my B.A. in Communication: Broadcasting to work, speaking to a lens hoping someone is watching, and then editing the video each week after our Facebook Live services.  My wife and I have communicated with our children and our grandchildren and our friends and church members via Zoom.  Can you imagine going through 2020 without our technology?  But there is the second reminder for me: Technology is just a tool.  While it is great to be able to interact with loved ones, friends, and business colleagues via technology, we have realized how exhausting it is to carry on a conversation in which one cannot really see hand gestures, or body language.  It is frustrating when Wi-Fi speed slows down and we get choppy sentences.  Technology is great, but it is just a tool.  I have been reminded more than ever how important real, live, in person, face to face communication is.

And with that I have been reminded anew of this fact: Relationships are a priority.  There is a lot of talk about returning to normal in the new year.  But I hope that I will never lose sight of how important relationships are.  We each need one another.  We were not designed to live in isolation.  In Genesis 2:18 we discover that there was one part of God’s creation that he determined was not good.  As he surveys all he has done God states: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  Since the beginning we were designed for relationship.  The struggles with loneliness and isolation due to the pandemic of 2020 have emphasized for all of us the priority relationships should take in our lives.  I know for me I am even more committed to building and enhancing my relationships.

But it is not just individual relationships that matter. Community is important. Just as we need individual relationships, we need the broader community.  I think what has grieved my heart more than anything this past year has been to realize afresh how divided we really are.  Politics have divided us.  Race has divided us.  Even the pandemic has divided us.  And all too often we have allowed our differences to be barriers to scale instead of tables where we could sit, and listen, and share, and learn, and build community.  I am personally a firm believer that every human being on planet earth is created in the image of God.  As a result, I have a deep conviction that I should treat every person regardless of race, ethnicity, political persuasion, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation with dignity and respect.  It is okay to agree to disagree.  That is the essence of community.  It is not okay to denigrate another person because we don’t see eye to eye.  Everyone has a story and everyone should have the opportunity to tell their story so that we can find those areas where we can work together to build community.

Community reminds me of my interdependence on those around me.  And my faith reminds me that I am dependent.  I am dependent on God who walked with me through 2020.  I am dependent on God who is already in 2021.  I am dependent on Jesus Christ who entered our global community as many celebrated at Christmas.  Since I have no clue as to what the future holds, I am dependent on the one who says: “I am the Alpha and the Omega…who is, and was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8).  On January 26, 2020, I stood before our congregation and said these words, “In this new year we will each need to reimagine what our church looks like.  It is going to be a different year for us all.”  I had no clue at that moment how true those words would be come.  But I learned in the coming weeks how much I needed to depend on God who did know what would come.

As we enter this new year may we each learn from the lessons of 2020 and then strive for a new normal. One that depends on God, builds healthy interpersonal relationships, and fosters true community.

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